“Unacceptable,” “old school” and “uninspiring” were just a few ways the NBA TV crew of Steve Smith, Rick Fox and Rick Kamla described the attire of players on the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans last Tuesday night as they entered the Staples Center. It’s been eight years since the NBA instituted a dress code aimed to “present a professional image and achieve a look of uniformity” among teams. “We’re just changing the definition of the uniform that you wear when you are on NBA business,” commissioner David Stern said in 2005.
The sartorial standards were set to dictate what players wear off the court, so some of them have decided to let their style and creativity show on the court. Here’s how ballers have pushed the envelope.
Miami’s LeBron James suffered a broken nose on February 20 when Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka hit him in the face, causing him to miss his next game against Chicago. He returned on February 27 with a vengeance and a black, carbon fibre mask. That night, James scored 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting in the Heat’s 108-82 win over the Knicks. But it was the mask that caught the fans’ attention. “Only LeBron can make breaking your nose look cool,” Heat forward Shane Battier told the American Press. The league requested that James switch to a clear mask, which he appealed by arguing that the carbon fibre cover is lighter, fits better and matches the Heat’s throwback uniforms. James wore a clear mask for a couple of games before taking it off against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday. On a related note, Toronto’s Patrick Patterson told BALLnROLL the NBA is allowing him to wear his “Batman” mask after he sent the league a “very, extremely convincing” letter.
Keeping their heads on straight
In October 2010, the NBA confirmed that new uniform rules would prohibit players from wearing their headbands upside down. This effectively put an end to players like Boston’s Rajon Rondo and New York’s J.R. Smith wearing them in a manner that makes it look like Jerry West’s silhouette in the logo is balancing on his head. After the NBA asked them to wear their headbands properly, Rondo and Smith decided to give up their headgear altogether. Before he was an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons, Rasheed Wallace gave the league countless headaches. The antic-prone player stuck it to the man by turning his headband inside-out. The NBA briskly put an end to that, as well.
Miami’s Dwyane Wade sported a designer bandage under his left eye to cover stitches in February 2009. He managed to wear them for a handful of games—even over the All-Star Weekend—before the league put a halt to it. The NBA released a statement saying, “We spoke to [the Miami Heat]. A player can wear a Band-Aid for healthcare purposes, but it shouldn’t have any name or identifications on it.” Wade told the the South Florida Sun Sentinel he expected this reaction from the NBA. He stopped wearing the bandages, which featured designs like the American flag and identifiers “Wade” and “Flash” (his nickname). The Miami Heat head coach speculated why Wade wore the fancy bandage in the first place. “He doesn’t have any tattoos,” Erik Spoelstra told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “So I figured it was his way of personal expression. This is his tattoo, a temporary tattoo.”
The fight over tights
Dallas Mavericks swingman Jerry Stackhouse started it. Then Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade and Lebron James (then a Cleveland Cavalier) got full-length tights trending in the NBA before trending (or Twitter) were even a thing. Naturally, the NBA modified its dress code in 2006 to ban them, but purely on aesthetic grounds—the league was convinced that players simply liked the look and didn’t consider that the tights kept their legs warm and loose. We can see it now: Wearing something because they like it… Who do these guys think they are? The NBA compromised by allowing players who really, really wanted to wear the leggings do so, provided they send the league a note from a team doctor detailing a “medical need” for them.
The Answer is in the sleeve
Creativity on the DL
Tim Duncan was seen in practice wearing a knee brace airbrushed with a Punisher skull in January 2012. A year later, a photo of even more badass knee braces belonging to The Big Fundamental surfaced. Duncan covers up the brace (and his obsession with airbrushed accessories) by wearing a sleeve in-game to avoid arousing the ire of the league and jeopardizing his Mr. Nice Guy image. Duncan proves men can be unique in the NBA—they just have to hide it.